Month: August 2019

Suffering adds power to pastoral ministry, Houston planter says

HOUSTON  A church planter in Houston has seen God implement what he calls a “ministry of suffering” in his local church after his 4-year-old son was born with a heart defect that has required three open heart surgeries.

Cameron Whitley and his wife Hannah had two sons and were expecting a third when they learned from a routine sonogram that the baby was missing a right ventricle, or essentially had half a heart. 

Whitley had grown up at Fielder Church in Arlington and was on staff in the youth department there while in college at Dallas Baptist University. He served six years on staff at The Woodlands Church near Houston before moving to the Atlanta area in 2014 to serve as a campus pastor at Mountain Lake Church in Cumming, Ga.

The Whitleys had been in Georgia about a year and a half when they learned their third son, Judson, would face such a difficult journey, and, as Cameron recounted to the TEXAN, “We thought our world was unraveling.”

“Unfortunately, there is a bad theology we can have as believers where we think, ‘If I walk in obedience, if I walk in faith, then everything is going to be great for me.’ Sometimes we believe that lie,” Whitley said. “For us, it was really disheartening. It challenged our faith. It challenged our calling. It challenged our ability to remain hopeful in the midst what seemed like tragedy. 

“We didn’t know what Day 1 would look like for Judson, much less what his life would look like. We were battling through the pregnancy with a lot of anxiety and fear.”

Judson was born in the spring of 2015, and when he was three days old he had his first open heart surgery, and in the aftermath he developed a wound infection that required more surgery. He was hospitalized for the first seven weeks of his life, and God used that time to work in his parents’ spiritual lives.

“Hannah and I would leave every morning around 5:30 or 6, we’d go to the hospital and stay until about 4 p.m. … My wife and I spent an hour on the drive there together, we spent all day at his bedside, talking and praying and reading while we were there with him, and then we would drive an hour and a half or more back home,” Whitley said.

“What that really did for us, that’s probably the most concentrated time that we had spent together in our entire relationship.” 

All the while, God was preparing them for a new church planting assignment. 

In the weeks that followed, Whitley was led to travel to Texas, where he sensed God calling him to plant a new church in a growing area of northeast Houston. Despite the upheaval in their family that accompanied bringing home a new baby with extra needs, the Whitleys followed God’s leading and moved to Houston to plant a church.

By then, Judson had endured a second open heart surgery at five months old and again had acquired an infection that meant weeks of hospitalization in Atlanta, but he was improving. The Whitleys hosted three vision nights for the new plant and—through inviting friends and spreading the word on social media—developed a core group that grew from 28 people in March 2016 to 65 people in August. 

“We baptized six people on our core team. A lot of our core team were believers. Some of them weren’t,” Whitley said. “Four of the six were our neighbors that we had grown in relationship with. We had an energizing start to what has been an amazing journey.”

In September 2016, West Lake Church was launched with 241 people in attendance. Sponsored by Fielder Church, they’ve been meeting at Summer Creek High School and are averaging 220 people as they approach their third anniversary, Whitley said. 

“Church planting is 10 times more overwhelming than a person could imagine, but I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else anywhere else,” he said. “It’s a very redeemed ‘overwhelming.’”

Judson had his third and what doctors expect was his final open heart surgery last November, and despite many people praying that he wouldn’t get an infection, he did.

“It was a kick in the stomach for us,” Whitley said. Hannah was pregnant at the time with their fourth son, and “it was very deflating for us.” The infection meant a two-and-a-half-week hospital stay that coincided with Christmas and New Year’s.

“Planting has been the easiest part of the last four years,” Whitley said, comparing something that is hard enough on its own to something that no parent wants his or her child to have to face. 

After the first six months of Judson’s life, considering what the Whitleys had been through physically with their son and spiritually with the Lord in that season, “it was kind of like, ‘What could be harder than that? What would he ask us to do that would require more faith or more endurance or more hope than that?’” Whitley said.

“To a degree, the old cliché of refining took place for us, and … what ended up being a beautiful thing at West Lake Church is the ministry of suffering and how needed that is in a church body, in a church family.

“If there’s never a recognition, if there’s never a testimony, if there’s never a speaking of suffering, then you lose the power of grace, you lose the power of mercy, you lose the power of fellowship, you lose the power of hope,” Whitley said. “I think one thing that it’s done for us as shepherds is allowed other people, specifically at West Lake and even just friends we have who aren’t a part of church, to see an openness of suffering, which is a very specific ministry.”

Through social media in particular, Hannah has been able to shepherd other women who are walking through similar trials with their children, and she even has ministered to mothers whose children have died. 

“For my wife and I, there’s a very specific testimony that is interwoven into West Lake Church because of Judson,” Whitley said.  

Texans debate how to “welcome the stranger”

AUSTIN—Representatives from religious, business and law enforcement gathered in Austin Aug. 15 to discuss the impact of immigration on the U.S. economy, culture and communities. Sponsored by the pro-immigration non-profit group National Immigration Forum, the speakers avoided political rhetoric, for the most part, and focused on the long-overdue need for immigration reform in our nation.

Most speakers failed to make a distinction between people residing in the U.S. legally or illegally and gave only a little practical guidance on how individuals and churches can seek to aid in the assimilation of newcomers into their communities regardless of their immigration status. But secular and Christian leaders agreed that recognizing the fundamental dignity of all people should be foundational to the immigration debate.

Austin Stone Community Church hosted the event which drew about 60 people.

Some Christians cite a moral tension between the biblical mandate to “welcome the stranger” to abide by the law. So, people don’t do anything, said David Smith, director of the Austin Baptist Association.

“If you can’t figure that out, you still have a fundamental responsibility before God to love your neighbor. So, you’ve got to go and do that,” Smith reminded.

Christians stuck in that moral paradox “soften” their views on immigration once they begin living out that biblical mandate. The faith community needs to take the lead on the immigration debate despite division in the church over topic, Smith said.

Local law enforcement must work within that tension as well. Keeping the peace in their communities – which include illegal immigrant residents – doesn’t mean ignoring federal immigration law, but rather,  prioritizing local law and safety, said Andy Harvey, police chief of Palestine, Texas, and a member of the Immigration Forum.

Creating a safe environment for his East Texas town requires that all residents, regardless of their immigration status, feel safe, he explained. Fear of reprisals for being in the country illegally often prevents people from reporting crimes to the police which makes their neighborhoods less safe.

And there are many people who entered or have stayed in the country illegally who want to rectify the situation, but current policies give few options, he argued. Leaving the country and waiting years to apply legally for entry is not a viable option for people with children who are American citizens, according to the chief.

So, they stay.

Resistance to all forms of immigration has disturbing roots said Tim Moore, an SBC pastor and spokesman for the Evangelical Immigration Table. Population studies indicate the U.S. soon will be a minority-majority nation.

Whites will comprise 49.7 percent of the U.S. population by 2045, according to a March 2018 U.S. census report.  Hispanics will make up 24.6 percent of the population, while Blacks and Asians will represent 13.1 and 7.9, respectively.

Immigration and birth rates indicate Texas will be majority Hispanic by 2030, according to the Texas Demographic Center.

“Nativist” ideology among some white Americans who make their views known to their state and federal legislators poisons attempts to reconcile the two sides of the debate, according to Moore, in arguing for change. They claim that some conversations in churches and with legislators project a fear of cultural changes driven by immigration, he said.

“What’s our problem? Can America be America if the Anglos don’t rule? That’s the issue,” he insisted.

The EIT represents a collaboration of evangelicals seeking government reform of outdated immigration policies. Its six-point policy objective calls on Congress to end the decades-long stalemate.

“It’s illegal to break the law,” Moore said, referring to illegal immigration. “But it is equally immoral not to enforce the law for decades and then decide to retroactively begin to enforce the law. That’s unconscionable in America.”

Signatories to the EIT statement include some Southern Baptist entities and several prominent Southern Baptist pastors.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle were the objects of criticism from conference speakers. Both  Republicans and Democrats use it as a wedge issue, some speakers contended, adding that resolving the issue removes ammunition from their rhetorical arsenal.

The National Immigration Forum supports legislation allowing people to stay in the country legally while also expediting the means of entry for people of all skill levels. Some participants criticized the Trump administration’s emphasize on legal immigration for people with degrees and high-tech skill sets, claiming he is ignoring the need for workers in the labor industry.

But Moore expects the status quo will stand.

Travis Wussow of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission countered with a strong reason for hope. His work on Capitol Hill advocating for policies SBC messengers have supported by way of resolutions in annual meetings has involved him in discussions with a bipartisan group of legislators determined to solve the problem.

Wussow, ERLC’s vice president for public policy and general counsel, recalled hearing one legislator who began a meeting saying, “‘Look, there’s 11 million people in this country illegally. We’re not going to deport all of them. So, what are we going to do about it?’”

The frankness of the question took Wussow by surprise. And the candor gave him hope. Because the talks are in the preliminary stage he did not want to name those involved. But, he said, the person leading the debate is a Southern Baptist who is letting Scripture determine “what is right and just.”

And Wussow knows Texas. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin as well as the School of Law, he previously served on the staff of an SBTC church before joining the ERLC.

The proposals being considered address both sides of the moral paradigm, he said. It creates punitive civil penalties against those who entered and stayed in the country illegally while creating a means of legalization – not citizenship – for those same people.

For now, just gaining traction is an answer to prayer for the Texas crowd who made the trip to Austin for six hours of dialogue.

Full circle: faithfulness and love, 50 years later

HENDERSON It was 1961, the same year in U.S. history that the American Civil Rights Movement launched a series of protests against segregation called Freedom Rides. These protests were led by blacks and whites who rode buses together throughout America.

This is also the same year that Turnertown Baptist Church, under the leadership of Pastor Warren McAllister, reached out to an all-black congregation called Midway Baptist and invited their children to Turnertown’s Vacation Bible School. It was at this event that Frannie Rettig (pictured above) received her first Bible.   

“We thought it was wonderful!” Rettig said about the very first VBS any of the children from Midway had the opportunity to attend. “We had VBS for five days where we were able to learn about the Bible. I was even able to memorize all 66 books! The people of Turnertown were truly Christians who loved people like Jesus taught us to love,” she continued.

Fifty-eight years later Rettig returned to Turnertown, this time in a new capacity. It was July 3, of this year when Rettig walked up to a young lady with a check for $300. Unsure what to do with it, the young lady took it to the man who had been a part of Turnertown Baptist Church for half a century, the music minister. “I was down the hall trying to ‘fix’ the DVD player when the young lady from the church walked up to me with an envelope that had $300 in it,” Albert Richards recalled. “I had to meet this person so I ran out to see Frannie in her car, about to drive off.”

“I’ve been wanting to do this for 50 years but I’ve been working as an instructor in San Antonio,” Rettig said.

This prompted a conversation that sparked one of Richards’ passions—history. He went into the office to find an old photo of that same VBS back in 1961. “Are you in this picture?” Richards asked. Rettig’s eyes scanned the photo to find herself as a young soon-to-be freshman in high school on the first step on the right-hand side of the photo standing among over 20 of the children from Midway.

Astonished, Rettig stated “I remember taking the picture but I never thought I’d see it!”

Richards couldn’t help but get excited. “Although I wasn’t at Turnertown at this time, but was pastoring at Southside Baptist Church in Henderson, we have such a rich history here and I’m just delighted to be a small part of it,” he said.

Now 81 years old Richards attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in the 1950s, but did not graduate. He cited two reasons for not finishing–one, he ran out of money, and two, he was unmarried. Richards, still a bachelor today, has not let his lack of a degree or a wife keep him from serving the Lord at Turnertown as a music minister and historian for 50 consecutive years.

“We need to save our church history for future generations,” Richards said with conviction. In this case the saving of his church history tells a story of the faithful love and compassion of his church during a time of turmoil in this nation. “My church has always had a heart for missions,” Richards said, “and for a church the size of Turnertown we are in the top 5 percent of giving in the SBC.”

When asked about why he thinks Richards has been so faithful in service to Turnertown for the past 50 years, current pastor Joe Wiley said, “He doesn’t see this as a job, he sees it as a family. A man can’t deny his family–which is why he’s been around for so long.”

Richards said, “I’ve seemed to come in the side door instead of the front door because I’ve never graduated from seminary and I’ve never been married, but I love my church.” He continued, “I have to say my encounter with Frannie is one of the best memories I’ve had because it connects our church with the history we have of evangelism.”

Turnertown has found a faithful man in Albert Richards. Richards meeting Rettig brought past and present together as they celebrated Mr. Richards’ 50 years of service on August 18, and the love of a congregation for the children of a sister church. Frannie Rettig attended the celebration.

REVIEW: “Angry Birds 2” is awful ¦ and not kid-friendly

His name is “Red,” and his name and feather colors fit his mood. Angry? Perhaps. Unforgiving? Yes? Self-centered? Definitely.

Red lives on Bird Island, a place where birds live in constant threat of attacks from their enemies and animal counterparts, the pigs on Pig Island.

The pigs, of course, see things a little differently. If it weren’t for the birds, they say, the world would be a better place.

Neither side, though, has ever seen an attack that didn’t deserve a response. 

Turn the other cheek? Not here.

So when the birds shoot a bottle of hot sauce across the water that explodes on Pig Island, the pigs retort by popping the birds’ balloons (by using a magnifying glass ray, of course). Then the birds respond by sparking a man-made tsunami that crashes onto Pig Island, and the pigs answer by dropping thousands of small crabs onto Bird Island.

If only the birds and pigs could find a common enemy to fight together.

That’s exactly what happens when an ice volcano on a third island starts launching “ice bombs” at the other two pieces of land. The mastermind behind these cold explosives is an opinionated bird named Zeta, who has a plan to destroy the inhabitants of Bird and Pig Islands so she can live and relax on both.

It will take a team effort to defeat her. But can the birds and pigs get along?

The film The Angry Birds Movie 2(PG) opened this week, starring Jason Sudeikis (The Angry Birds Movie) as Red, Leslie Jones (Ghostbusters, 2016) as Zeta, and Rachel Bloom (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) as the bird Silver.

It and its 2016 predecessor are spinoffs of the popular Angry Birdsvideo game franchise.

Both Angry Birdsmovies, though, lack entertainment value (each received a B CinemaScore from moviegoers, a rock-bottom score for an animated film). More significantly, though, they fall far short of being kid-friendly.

The newest Angry Birds 2movie includes: a scene of a pig taking selfies of his rear end and shirtless torso in front of the mirror, a scene and a joke about two birds making out, a lengthy scene of a bird urinating in a urinal, a scene of a pig in a thong, a scene of a pig in spandex as we hear Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy, and more posterior and poop jokes than you can count. It also has minor language.  

It is one of the least kid-friendly animated films I’ve seen. It’s as if three random fourth-grade boys wrote the script.  

That’s too bad, because its core message — reconciliation, teamwork and humility — are positive lessons children need to hear.

Unless your children are mega-mature, I’d skip it.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)


Minor/moderate. The pigs and birds open the film by playing a tit-for-tat game of trying to destroy the other’s island, although most of the violent “acts” are silly (the birds shoot hot sauce at the pigs; the pigs drop crabs on Bird Island). Zeta tortures her engineer by freezing his legs and arms in blocks of ice. She freezes a dog, too. A bird gets accidentally knocked out in a restroom.


Minor/moderate. Red goes to a speed dating event because it’s “mating season.” A pig enjoying a hot spring bath with others stands up, revealing a thong. Leonard the pig is showing slides in a film room, preparing for battle, when inappropriate pictures of him pop up on the screen. We hear one of them is a “butt shot.” (We see him taking pictures of his rear end.) Red and Silver accidentally fall on one another when other pigs and birds walk in and assuming they were kissing — or something else. (“Yeah they were,” someone says while taking a picture.) A pig gets “plan X” confused for “spandex” and wears the latter. (We then hear the song, I’m Too Sexy.) We learn Zeta and another eagle had a baby chick after their wedding day was called off. (The chick says: “That’s my father?”) The pigs don’t wear pants, and multiple times the film makes jokes about their posteriors.

Coarse Language

Minor. The film is full of words that many households don’t let their young children (or older children) say. OMG is said three times and drawn out for effect. Other words parents may want to know about: heck (3), stupid (3), butts (3), idiot (2), gosh (2), crap (1). We also year “are you freaking kidding me?” and “don’t screw this up.” A baby chick curses, although it’s fully bleeped out.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

We learn Zeta’s ex-fiance abandoned her on their wedding day. The film includes multiple songs from the 1980s and 1990s.

Life Lessons

Reconciliation is always possible: The pigs and birds — former enemies — become friends once they get to know one another. They become a team.

No one enjoys an arrogant person: A self-centered Red teams up with a few birds and pigs to defeat Zeta, but he rejects all their ideas. Soon, they want to abandon him.

Humility is a secret to happiness: When Red puts others first, his life improves. Others like him more. They make progress on beating Zeta. He’s happier, too.     


Humility is one of the trademarks of the Christian. God “opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). His Word commands us to have “unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love” and a “tender heart” — but these are possibly only if we have a “humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8).

Christ — the creator of the universe — was humble. He expects the same of his children. 

What Works

The plot’s core story is interesting. It could haveworked. Sadly, the filmmakers went for cheap laughs. 

What Doesn’t

I laughed out loud three to four times. But most of the film is 90 minutes of inappropriate nonsense. 

Discussion Questions

1. Is there someone in your life you need to forgive? Do you need reconciliation?

2. Why does God want us to be humble?

3. What caused Red to change his outlook on life?

4. Did you think Angry Birds 2 had too much potty humor? Why or why not?

Entertainment rating:2 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating:3.5 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG for rude humor and action. 

SBTC DR chaplains share hope in El Paso

EL PASO   Four veteran Disaster Relief chaplains from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention packed quickly to drive from different regions of the state to El Paso to minister to victims, families and the community following the Aug. 3 shootings at the Cielo Vista Walmart.

The four men, all pastors, arrived in El Paso on Aug. 7 and began to serve.

None is new to helping others deal with tragedy and grief.

Gordon Knight of Bryan, SBTC director of chaplains and pastor at Christ’s Way Baptist Church, responded to deadly shootings at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church in 2017 and Santa Fe High School in 2018.

“There’s nothing that we can do that will help except extend a listening ear and a sympathetic heart and empathy,” Knight told KBTX-TV in Bryan-College Station in an Aug. 6 televised interview while traveling to El Paso.

“When people see the uniform, they ask about who we are,” Knight said. “We can start telling them that we’re chaplains, and we’re here to listen and pray with you—whatever you need to help you get through this.

“Ours is a ministry of presence,” Knight told KBTX. “Having people tell their stories can be very therapeutic and very healing.”

Accompanying Knight were chaplains Dennis Parish of Conroe’s The Church at 242, Terry Bunch of East Side Baptist Church in Haskell and Mike Flanagan from First Baptist Church Whitesboro.

“We’re trying to help folks as they walk through this time of struggle and grief and providing direction and resources,” Parish told KHOU-TV.

“We’ll just ask them to tell us their story, where they were, what they felt, what emotions they had. And to be able to encourage them, share some Scripture with them and be able to pray for them,” Flanagan said in an interview with Texoma’s KXII-TV.

“When you’re at your lowest time is when you need somebody to come along and encourage you, and remind you that there are good things out there that are possible, and that there’s a God who cares about you and people who care about you,” Bunch told Abilene’s KTAB news.

The men have been busy since arriving in the Sun City, dividing into two teams to visit the Cielo Vista Mall, local churches and area hospitals.

Bunch and Flanagan, who is fluent in Spanish, met and prayed with the family of girls’ soccer coach Guillermo (Memo) Garcia at Del Sol Medical Center. Garcia remained in intensive care while his wife, Jessica, also a victim, was released from the hospital and joined the family waiting at Del Sol.

The Garcias were helping at a sports fundraising booth at the Walmart entrance when the gunman struck, shooting Jessica three times in the leg and Memo twice in the back and once in the leg.

“She was shot outside, tied off her leg with some kind of tourniquet, ran inside the Walmart and found her [wounded] husband,” Flanagan said.

Jessica told the chaplains she said to Memo, “I’ve got to find the children.”

“Go find them,” Garcia replied.

Flanagan said that others from the soccer team had located the kids and kept them safe, and that family members were caring for the children now.

The chaplains had less success visiting victims at the University Medical Center of El Paso, where families and staff, exhausted from media attention and presidential entourages, were requesting privacy on Aug. 8.

Bunch told the TEXAN that he and Flanagan had an appointment to see about gaining access to UMC to offer counseling and prayer. Thus far neither he nor Flanagan have found local hospitals to be staffed with chaplains.

In the meantime, as they walked corridors at various medical centers, nurses spied the large “chaplain” designation on their yellow SBTC DR shirts and asked them to talk to other patients and their families, which they have done.

Bunch also received a text message from a DR colleague, asking him to check on her daughter’s friend Marissa, the manager of a flooring store near the Walmart.

“When Marissa saw our yellow shirts, she knew who we were,” Flanagan said. Marissa was trained in DR but hadn’t asked her employees how they were doing following the violence. She asked the chaplains to talk with her staff.

“We had a great 15-minute conversation and prayed with six people, mostly millennials,” Flanagan said.

While Bunch and Flanagan were talking with the group, a customer and her mother approached.

The customer reminded the chaplains that they had assisted her at the Wednesday evening prayer vigil held at the memorial outside Cielo Vista Mall, helping her negotiate the crowd with her wheelchair-bound father.

“She hugged us. We prayed for her and she prayed for us,” Flanagan said.

The chaplains attended the prayer vigil at the invitation of college students they met at the mall’s food court earlier that day. The pastors planned to return to the memorial that night with 60 stuffed animals with gospel tracts attached to help open conversations and provide comfort. 

In addition to visiting churches, the chaplains were planning to be a visible presence at the start of school Monday at Immanuel Baptist Church’s Immanuel Christian School, near the Walmart.

The chaplains expect to serve in El Paso for about a week.

SBTC DR Director of Chaplains Gordon Knight recommended the following five responses to crises such as the El Paso shootings, in an interview with KHOU-TV:

  1. Trust law enforcement and the instructions they provide.
  2. In situations like this, the state and cities will provide counselors, so use them. In fact the national disaster distress helpline offers immediate crisis counseling to people affected by mass shootings. The number is 1-800-985-5990.
  3. If your kids are anxious or worried, get them to talk to a school counselor.
  4. Talk about your feelings with people who are empathetic to the situation.
  5. Spend time with someone you trust.

SBTC DR feeding volunteers assist at El Paso crisis center: “The feel of it is really amazing”

EL PASO   Within a few days of the tragic Aug. 3 shootings at an El Paso Walmart that claimed 22 lives, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief feeding volunteers headed to the area to support Salvation Army efforts serving first responders, victims’ advocates and other crisis personnel.

The first SBTC DR volunteers arrived Aug. 7, including Ronnie and Connie Roark of Salem-Sayers Baptist Church near San Antonio. The Roarks frequently man SBTC’s quick response kitchen, but for this deployment they left the quick response unit behind and drove to El Paso to help staff the Salvation Army’s mobile kitchen.

The Salvation Army feeding unit was moved from the Cielo Vista Mall, near the Walmart, to the El Paso Convention Center, where city and county authorities have established a grief counseling and support center.

Local restaurants, businesses and grocery stores are sending over meals, snacks, bottled water and supplies, so the Roarks at first busied themselves with replenishing the food and snack tables and making coffee for first responders and others at the convention center.

“I guess you could call us hosts and hostesses,” Connie Roark told the TEXAN several days after arriving. “We are making people feel welcome.”

When the expected lunch delivery did not occur on Aug. 8, the Roarks joined United Way and Salvation Army volunteers and staff to make sandwiches.

Tom Mathis of Flint Baptist Church arrived to assist the Roarks that same day. Another feeding team from Flint Baptist was due to rotate in next week to relieve the volunteers, SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice confirmed.

Roark described the atmosphere at the convention center as “very calm,” adding, “They have lots of support people here. They are all pulling together. The feel of it is really amazing.

“We were the advance team—just to be here to help any way we could,” she said.

The team started preparing meals in the Salvation Army’s mobile kitchen Aug. 9, cooking enchilada dinners for 200, Ronnie Roark said. The feeding volunteers will continue preparing lunches and dinners.

“We are so saddened by this horrific crime in El Paso but we praise God for this opportunity to serve and ask God’s blessings upon El Paso and upon the victims and their families,” Stice told the TEXAN, referring not only to the feeding volunteers, but also to SBTC DR chaplains who have arrived to help.

REVIEW: “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” delivers great messages—and a solid role model

Dora is an optimistic and outgoing teenager girl who has spent her entire life in the South American jungle.

She’s played with snakes. She’s talked to monkeys. She’s swung from branch to branch, exploring everything there is to see. She lovesit there.

But things are about to change. Her mother gets a new job. And then Dora is moved to an environment — California — she doesn’t recognize or understand. And then she enters high school, a cynical place where teenagers definitely don’tshare her bubbly outlook on life.

Will Dora be able to influence her high school classmates for the better? Or will her classmates changeher?

The live-action Nickelodeon movie Dora and the Lost City of Gold(PG) opens this weekend, telling the story of the popular fictional character who is best-known from the animated educational series Dora the Explorer.It stars Isabela Moner (Instant Family) as Dora, Eva Longoria (Dog Days) as her mother and Michael Peña (Ant-Manseries) as her father.

The movie follows Dora as she navigates high school — going to class (she loves literature), eating in the cafeteria (mac & cheese is her favorite) and dancing awkwardly at the school dance — before she and three classmates are kidnapped and taken back to South America. It seems Dora’s parents knew the location of a lost city of gold, and the bad guys want Dora to lead them to her mom and dad.  

Dora and the Lost City of Goldincludes elements from several great films: the hilarious naivety from Elf, the contagious optimism in Paddington, and the history-based exploration from Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s a clean version of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle(which I didn’t like). 

It also provides girls a great role model who has multiple qualities I’d want my daughter to emulate.    

Yes, the film is quirky and even goofy at times, but it’s a funny and mostly family-friendly film that my two oldest children (ages 11 and 7) enjoyed.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)


Minimal. Teenagers are kidnapped in a crate and taken to South America on a plane. Dora and her classmates are chased and shot at with darts. They get stuck in quicksand. They nearly drown, and they think they’re going to die. They’re nearly killed again in a temple when the walls close in on them and a ceiling with sharp points collapses. But nothing is graphic, and comedy is just beneath the surface of every scene. It would disturb only the most sensitive children. Most older kids and tweens would consider it tame.


Minimal. Two teenagers kiss. (Dora’s not one of them.) We hear discussion of animals mating.

Coarse Language

Minimal. Two barely heard OMGs. Two instances of “gosh” and two unfinished “what the.” Four instances of “shut up.” The rest of the language involves name-calling: “disco Dorka” and “Dorka,” for example.

Other Positive Elements

Dora loves her parents, and they love her, too. 

Dora is the type of female role model few films offer. She optimistic. She’s encouraging to others. She sees the best in people. She’s humble. She’s a leader who learns. Eventually, she wins over her friends. It’s also worth noting that the film doesn’t sexualize Dora, as happens too often in Hollywood movies.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Dora dances, but not inappropriately. (It’s so goofy it embarasses her cousin, Diego.)

She and her friends get stuck in quicksand, resulting in sounds that emulate the sound of flatulation.

Her female classmate, Sammy, uses the restroom in the jungle. Dora helps by digging a hole and inventing a song about making a “poo hole” in the ground.

Life Lessons

Optimism is infectious: Dora was ridiculed in school for her cheery personality, but it influenced everyone for the better. The contrast between her and her snobby classmates is striking. Who would you rather hang out with? The answer is obvious.

Bullying is ugly: We briefly see a student shoved up against the lockers. We hear Dora called several ugly names for her intellect and background. The bullies were trying to be cool. Ironically, through, they were the ones who looked foolish. Proverbs 18:2 says: “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”

Everyone needs encouraged. Dora grows discourages a couple of times. Her friends, especially Diego, cheer her up.


The plot involves Incan traditions and myths that turn out to be true. We watch an elderly woman transformed into a young queen. We hear discussion of Incan gods. When things go bad, the queen tells everyone that the gods were “angered.” We watch Dora appease these gods by restoring a statuette to its original location.

What Works

Isabela Moner as Dora. She’s marvelous. The humor stays in the family-friendly realm, even if it does include discussions of “poo.”

What Doesn’t

Some of the humor is awkward.

Discussion Questions

1. Do you enjoy being around people like Dora? Why or why not?

2. Name five positive characteristics of Dora. Which characteristic do you need to emulate?

3. What is the key to stopping bullying?

4. Why are cliques so popular? Are cliques biblical or unbiblical?

5. Dora says if “you believe in yourself, anything is possible.” Is that true?

Entertainment rating:3.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating:4 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG for action and some impolite humor.

On the El Paso shootings

We grieve the tragic killings that took place in El Paso on Saturday, and we also grieve the pervasive evil that motivates such actions.

Racism, however it is expressed, is a blasphemy against the one true God whose image all women and men bear. The idea that one race is inherently superior to another, whether it is called white supremacy or some other label, is unbiblical. The Apostle Peter discovered at the house of Cornelius, as described in Acts 10, that God is no respecter of persons.

 Pastors of Southern Baptists of Texas Convention affiliated churches in the El Paso area are reaching out to their neighbors in the aftermath of this tragedy. The SBTC staff is mobilized to help those churches share the love and comfort of Christ. 

Southwestern Seminary announces new leadership, faculty for Terry School of Educational Ministries

Two new faculty members have been appointed to the Terry School of Educational Ministries at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, President Adam W. Greenway announced Monday, July 29. Michael S. Wilder and Chris Shirley will serve as professors of educational ministries. In addition, Wilder will serve as interim dean of the school, effective Aug. 1.

“I am excited and thankful that Michael Wilder and Chris Shirley are joining our faculty at Southwestern Seminary as part of our Terry School of Educational Ministries,” said Greenway. “I have previously served for many years with Dr. Wilder, and I know firsthand his deep love for training leaders for the diverse callings of local church ministry. I have the greatest confidence that under his leadership, our Terry School is going to experience significant growth and expand its Kingdom impact. In addition, welcoming Dr. Shirley ‘home to the Dome’ is the right move with the right man at the right time. I know that he will bring fresh perspectives to a familiar place as he serves the Terry School in both teaching and administrative responsibilities.”

Wilder comes to Southwestern Seminary with many years of vocational, administrative, and leadership experience. He most recently served as the J.M. Frost Professor of Leadership and Discipleship, and associate vice president for doctoral studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Under Wilder’s leadership, the Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) and Doctor of Educational Ministry (D.Ed.Min.) programs have grown by a combined 42 percent. In particular, the D.Ed.Min. program has grown over that time from 78 graduates to an estimated 191, a 145 percent increase. Wilder has also served as the senior pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Floyds Knobs, Ind.

“I am excited about partnering with fellow faculty members and local churches as we seek to fulfill the vision of L.R. Scarborough and J.M. Price in the Terry School of Educational Ministries. We will equip Great Commission ministers who counsel, disciple, lead, and teach with excellence,” Wilder says. “After 30 years of serving the local church, I find myself ever more convinced that ministries marked by healthy discipleship experience greater Kingdom fruitfulness. For this reason, I am committed to equipping the next generation of men and women who will serve in the churches’ discipleship and teaching ministries.”

Prior to his role at Southern Seminary, Wilder served as a youth minister in Georgia for 12 years, pastored a Kentucky church for three years, and taught at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary as an adjunct faculty member for three years.

A Georgia native, Wilder obtained his Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Clayton State College and his Master of Divinity degree from New Orleans Seminary. He later earned a Ph.D. from Southern Seminary.

“I have worked with Michael Wilder for well over a decade,” says Randy L. Stinson, provost and vice president for academic administration. “He is a great leader and scholar. He understands the future of Christian education and how we can reach the nations with the Gospel through the associate roles in the local church.”

Wilder will succeed Jack Terry, who has served as interim dean since August 2018 and will continue to serve as special assistant to the president. Terry, for whom the Terry School of Educational Ministries is named, joined the Southwestern Seminary faculty in 1969 and served as dean of the School of Religious Education from 1973-1995 and then as vice president for Institutional Advancement from 1995-2005.

“I am looking forward to the coming of Dr. Michael Wilder as the dean of the Terry School of Educational Ministries,” Terry says. “Dr. Wilder brings vast experience in training and developing leadership for educational ministry in local churches. He is committed to the education of men and women who will be training to lead the plethora of multifaceted educational ministries in the local church, area associations, and state conventions.”

“His experience in the local church as an educational minister will serve him well as he takes on the challenge of leading the students in the Terry School of Educational Ministries to become local church educational leaders for the future,” Terry continues. “His local church leadership skills will be an encouragement to the faculty and the students studying for educational ministry.”

“After spending time with Dr. Wilder, you hear his passion and heart for the educational ministry of the local church,” says Kenneth Priest, director of convention relations for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. “As a Master of Arts in Christian Education graduate of Southwestern Seminary, I am excited to learn of his vision for addressing the discipleship ministries of the church by equipping future ministry leaders for Great Commission fulfillment. Dr. Greenway’s hiring of Michael Wilder positions Southwestern to reclaim its position as the leader of SBC institutions in educational ministry. I could not be more pleased with where our seminary is heading.”

For Chris Shirley, who most recently served as associate professor of discipleship at Dallas Baptist University, this appointment is a return to the seminary family, having previously served as an assistant professor here in the areas of discipleship and family ministry.

“Chris Shirley is a man of integrity, deeply committed to the local church, and a Southwesterner who is administratively gifted in ways that will help the Terry School of Educational Ministries make significant advances,” says Stinson.

Shirley earned both his Master of Arts in Christian Education (1994) and Ph.D. (2002) from Southwestern Seminary. Aside from his teaching roles in higher education, Shirley also has extensive experience in the local church in the areas of education and discipleship, and he served for a time as associate director of camps at Ridgecrest in North Carolina.

“Christian Education is a 2 Timothy 2:2 ministry of the church (‘teaching others to teach others’) with a Great Commission focus (‘teaching them to obey’),” said Shirley. “The disciple-making ministry of the church depends on training disciples who know why they believe what they believe and are trained to teach that knowledge to others. This ministry must survive and thrive, and the Terry School is designed to help make that happen for the sake of Christ and the church.”